A convicted sex offender was sentenced to life in prison for raping and burning alive professional poker player Susie Zhao.
Jeffery Morris, 62, was sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole on Thursday, a little more than a month after being convicted at trial of first-degree murder and felony murder in the commission of second-degree criminal sexual conduct, according to The Oakland Press.
Jurors deliberated for less than an hour before finding the defendant guilty.
When given a chance to speak during his sentencing, Morris said he was not going to say anything at this time — but signaled his intention to appeal the verdict.
“There’s a lot I’d like to say,” the convicted murderer told the judge. “This time I’m not gonna say anything. I’ll wait till I come back for an appeal and begin again.”
Judge Martha Anderson described the case as “one of the most agonizing trials” of her career.
“I cannot get over the brutality of this murder and the needlessness of it all,” she said.
Zhao, a rising star in the world of professional poker, was living in Los Angeles but relocated to Michigan in June 2020 to live with her mother and stepfather. As an adult, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Her mother last saw her alive on July 12, 2020. Her charred remains were discovered the next day in a wooded area at Oakland County’s Pontiac Lake Recreation Area.
Prosecutors claim Morris, a homeless man convicted of a sex crime in 1989, met Zhao at a Waterford Township motel where she frequently stayed and then carried out a depraved sexual fantasy involving bondage.
According to the evidence, the victim was brutally raped, resulting in genital damage. She was bound with zip ties, doused in gasoline, and set ablaze while still alive.
Zhao’s body was so badly burned that two men initially mistook it for a Halloween prank or a scorched mannequin when they discovered it.
“What happened to her was just so unkind, so brutal and needless,” prosecutor John Skrzynski said of the horrific crime.
Morris was arrested in Aug. 2020 after police tied him to the location where Zhao’s body was found through phone records.